What are ceramides and how can they benefit your skin?

Everything you need to know about ceramides, the gentle ingredient experts love

Pot of skincare cream containing ceramides on an orange backdrop with a shadow
(Image credit: Future/Getty images)

Ceramides are one of those skincare ingredients that have been knocking around for decades, yet still generate plenty of buzz from beauty insiders. Why? Because these are the gentle giants of the skincare world, an effective, highly-researched active that can be used by anyone and added into any routine.

Despite their sweetheart status amongst those in the know, many of us are still unclear on what it is that ceramides actually do in a skincare routine. In fact, the Mintel UK Facial Skincare Report found that 44% of women have heard of ceramides, but only 7% think they know what they are. 

If you're amongst those numbers, we're here to clear up any confusion. From moisturizing to skin barrier-boosting and soothing sensitivity, this is your guide to everything ceramides can do for you, and how to work one of the most versatile skincare ingredients on the market into your routine. 

Your dermatologist-approved ceramides guide

What are ceramides?

Ceramides are a type of fatty acid known as lipids. They get their name from the Latin word for wax, cera, and occur naturally in our skin. As a component of your skin's protective outer layer, ceramides perform a number of important functions in keeping it looking and feeling good. 

“Ceramides are lipids that make up 50% of our skin composition and support skin function and hydration," explains Dr Alexis Granite, CeraVe consultant dermatologist. They do this by aiding the skin's work as a barrier against the outside elements. "They [ceramides] are critical for an effective skin barrier function,” agrees Dr Christopher Hensby, expert for CeraVe. By bolstering the barrier, ceramides help prevent transepidermal water loss and keep irritants out. 

What are the benefits of ceramide skincare?

Since ceramides are already in our skin, you might be wondering what the benefits of using products containing this ingredient might be. 

As we age, ceramide levels begin to deplete, with this natural ceramide loss usually beginning around the age of 35. Replenishing our natural ceramide supply with skincare products can help us continue to enjoy the benefits of a healthy, lipid-rich complexion. "Applying ceramides to the skin helps restore our natural skin barrier and offers protection from impurities,” agrees Dr Granite. 

This in turn can encourage a number of benefits for our appearance, including: 

  • Reduction of lines: Dry or dehydrated skin can increase the appearance of fine lines. Ceramides' ability to lock in moisture can help skin regain its elasticity.
  • Added glow: Well-moisturized, supple skin will appear healthier and more radiant without the dullness or rough texture that can be associated with dryness. 
  • Supple, supported structure: Loss of firmness can be a result of the skin's lessened ability to retain water. Ceramides can help maintain a plump, happy complexion. 
  • Protection from skin conditions: A better skin barrier means fewer irritants and a better chance of warding off sensitivity and skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis. 

Do ceramides have any side effects?

One of the best things about ceramides is how gentle they are. Because ceramides naturally occur in the body, topical ceramides do not generally have any side effects and should slot happily into a skincare routine for sensitive skin

With that said, if you know your skin is very reactive it's a good bet to patch test any product on your arm before using it on your face. And keep in mind that some of the best skincare products with ceramides may contain other, more aggressive ingredients that can cause reactions. Ceramides are often included as a skin-replenishing element in the best retinol creams, for example. 

When should you use ceramides?

Due to their gentle nature, ceramides can be used any time, morning or night, as often as you like. Topical ceramides are appropriate for a wide variety of skin types, including those with sensitive skin or in a skincare routine for acne

They are an excellent moisture-boosting ingredient all year round but many experts particularly recommend their use during winter. "For lasting moisture, switch to a richer cream for the colder months, formulas that contain fatty acids and ceramides will help your skin to lock in moisture and develop a protective barrier," explains Dr Daron Seukeran, consultant dermatologist at SK:N clinics. 

How do you use ceramides?

Products can vary, so always follow the instructions on your skincare, but in the broadest terms, you would simply apply ceramide skincare topically with clean hands. Ceramides can also be used in combination with just about any other popular skincare ingredients, whether that's other moisturizers such as hyaluronic acid, exfoliating acids such as glycolic acid, or protective antioxidants.

  • Other useful ingredients to look out for include niacinamide, peptides, and ferulic acid, found in the best vitamin c serums. These all work in harmony with ceramides to achieve multifaceted skincare benefits. 
  • Before applying a product containing ceramides, it's a good idea to gently exfoliate. This will help remove the layer of dead skin cells on your skin's surface that could inhibit absorption and therefore the effectiveness of your ceramide product.

Three brilliant ceramide skincare brands to try 

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Cerave Micellar Water | RRP: $10.99/£10

CeraVe made its name on cult-favorite ceramide cleansers (including our pick, CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser (opens in new tab)) The US drugstore brand offers serums and face creams too and has recently launched this excellent, gentle makeup-removing micellar that contains ceramides and niacinamide. 

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Elizabeth Arden Advanced Ceramide Capsules | RRP: $63/£45 for 30

Elizabeth Arden is a true ceramide pioneer and these iconic capsules are a brilliant, stable way to deliver the ingredient into your routine. If you prefer an active-packed routine the brand also offers capsules blending ceramides with Vitamin C, retinol, and hyaluronic acid. 

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Curél Moisture Facial Milk | RRP: $21/£19.95

You can always rely on this Japanese skincare brand to combine ultra-gentle ceramide-based formulas with the most beautiful textures. This feather-light lotion is a prime example, offering a soothing moisture boost without that heavy, rich layer many barrier creams leave behind. 


woman&home thanks Dr Alexis Granite and Dr Christopher Hensby for CeraVe (opens in new tab) and Dr Daron Seukeran, consultant dermatologist at sk:n clinics (opens in new tab) for their time and expertise

Fiona McKim
Fiona McKim

 As woman&home's Beauty Channel Editor, Fiona Mckim has tried more products than she’s had hot dinners and nothing makes her happier than raving about brilliant finds on womanandhome.com or her instagram grid (@fionamckim if you like hair experiments and cute shih-tzus). Fiona joined woman&home as Assistant Beauty Editor in 2013 under industry legend Jo GB, who taught her everything she needed to know (learn about ingredients and employ extreme cynicism). She has since covered every corner of the industry, from interviewing dermatologists and celebrities to reporting backstage at Fashion Week and judging the w&h Beauty Awards.